Keeping our nation divided as right vs left is an agenda supported by both Fox News and MSNBC. The media and the politicians both profit from Americans believing they should hate their fellow Americans. And oddly enough, the one thing that unites the traditional “right” and “left” in this country is our hatred for those same media organizations and politicians that make money by regularly lying to us. The best way to beat them is to find the things that bring us together in one common purpose and unite around that.
An article in the Atlantic last week talked about how the dominant liberal narrative is broken. The argument that government is inherently good and is necessary to provide things like Social Security, Medicare and national parks has some truth to it, and worked well for both parties in the mid-twentieth century. Democrats and Republicans from FDR to Eisenhower won landslide elections using the good-government narrative. But now that our government is captive to corporations and their lobbyists like the US Chamber of Commerce, Americans of all ideological leanings are united in the belief that our current government, as it stands, is completely out of touch and needs radical change from outside the political system to do it. MORE
When Olympia J. Snowe told Mitch McConnell in February 2012 that she was going to retire from the Senate, the first words out of the Republican Minority Leader’s mouth were, “Goodness gracious.”
McConnell no doubt instantly calculated that if the moderate Republican Snowe bowed out, her Maine Senate seat likely would fall into Democratic hands – which it did.
McConnell told Snowe that if she ran for another term, she would be at the “peak of her power” and could help build bipartisan support for legislation. That was an interesting argument from one of the most partisan lawmakers who had dedicated his efforts to denying President Obama a second term. But Snowe, a prominent and beloved moderate Republican on Capitol Hill, had made up her mind to leave...
Since leaving the Senate in January, rather than taking it easy, she finished her new autobiography, delivered a series of speeches sounding the alarm about hyper-partisanship in Washington, and working as a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank focused on achieving principled solutions through rigorous analysis. Snowe is also co-chair of Commission for Political Reform, which is conducting seminars around the country.
Last week, she helped launch the Common Ground Project, a grass roots organization to get ordinary citizens involved in political reform in Washington and across the country. “We want to give people a channel to be a catalyst for change in real time,” she explained in an interview last week. The goal is to use social media and on-line technology inform Americans about what is or isn’t happening in Congress, what can be done to break the political stalemate “and to be a counterweight to the extremes that continue to perpetuate the status quo of polarization and partisanship.”
Unemployment rates are one measure of how well the economy is recovering, and 40 states experienced a drop in unemployment rates last month. This was the greatest drop since last November. In April, 165,000 jobs were added across the country, and the unemployment rate fell to a low of 7.5 percent, which is the lowest rate since December 2008.
On Friday, the Labor Department said that only three states increased unemployment rates: Louisiana, North Dakota, and Tennessee. Seven states had their unemployment rates stay the same.
Many jobs have been created due to the housing recovery. In Texas, 41.500 construction jobs were created in the last year. These jobs have helped Texas become the country’s leader in job growth. The state has an unemployment rate of 6.4 percent, which was the same as in April but down from 7 percent a year before. Texas added 33,100 jobs last month and 326,100 jobs over the past 12 months.
New York gained 25,300 jobs in April, which was the second largest job increase among the states. In the past year, the state has added 111,600 jobs, which helped push the state’s unemployment rating down from 8.2 percent in March to 7.8 percent. Part of this decline was due to people who stopped looking for work, which was no longer counted in the unemployment rate.
Nevada had the highest unemployment rate in April at 9.6 percent, but it also had the biggest drop in unemployment rate as it dropped from 10.7 percent over the course of a year. Although many people in Nevada simply gave up looking for work, part of that decline is also because of 22,700 jobs that had been added in the last year.
It is also important to consider the unemployment rates of the states. Even though North Dakota’s unemployment rates increased, at 3.3 percent, it had the lowest jobless rate. The state’s unemployment rating has continued to be low because of the oil and gas boom there. The drop in unemployment rates points to how the job market is improving around the country.
Well, if faith leaders can do it -- actually promote civility in Washington, D.C. -- they will have worked a miracle that rivals those recorded in the Gospels.
Apparently, some are trying. Recently, the nonpartisan Faith and Politics Institute sponsored a two-day conversation among faith groups, "Faith, Politics and Our Better Angels: A Christian Dialogue to Promote Civility."
According to Religion News Service, 25 religious leaders came together with the goal of promoting civil discourse. The meeting included both ends of the political/religious spectrum: Kenda Bartlett, executive director of Concerned Women for America; the Rev. Jeffery Cooper, general secretary of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; Barrett Duke of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Sr. Marge Clark of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby; and others.
Also present was Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the U.S. Episcopal church. She told the media, "Faith leaders have a remarkable opportunity to shift the conversation, but it's very challenging, particularly in a larger society that wants to understand everything as a battle, as engaging the enemy, rather than with someone who might have something to teach us."
They are reportedly considering the institution of a national day of civil discourse to promote the idea and encourage preaching on the topic.
While I'm glad to see this, much more is needed. Right now, nothing of substance is getting done in Washington. There is also a stubborn inability to come together for the benefit of the American people. I can remember when conservative Ronald Reagan and liberal Tip O'Neill bridged wide gaps to reform Social Security. That day is long gone.
So words are a start. But we need to move beyond civil rhetoric to civil action and legislation.
Supporters of a bill that would change the state’s religious-protection law say it would strengthen Arizonans’ ability to defend their “practice or observance of religion.”
But critics of the legislation, particularly in the gay and transgender community, say it’s so broadly worded that it could have dangerous implications, particularly in providing a legal defense for those who ignore state law or city ordinances meant to protect groups such as same-sex couples and transgender individuals from discrimination.
The Arizona House on Wednesday passed Senate Bill 1178 in a 32-24 vote, with most Republicans supporting it and all Democrats opposing it. The bill still needs final Senate approval before going to the governor. The Senate has not yet scheduled a vote.
The conservative advocacy group Center for Arizona Policy authored the bill. Its attorney says the bill does not expand the definition of exercise of religion in a way that adds new protections. Rather, the group contends it clarifies an individual’s right to make a legal argument by allowing him or her to claim in lawsuits that a state action is a burden on a religious exercise, even when the government is not a party.
“It is shocking the claims that have been made about what this bill does,” said Josh Kredit, legislative counsel for the Center for Arizona Policy. “We just want to clarify the state law.” MORE
Initial jobless claims climbed by 32,000 to a seasonally adjusted 360,000 in the week ended May 11, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had expected claims to rise to 330,000 from a revised 328,000 in the prior week....
The level of weekly claims has been particularly volatile over the past two months, ranging from a high of 388,000 to a low of 327,000. That’s why economists pay closer attention to the more stable four-week average, which rose a by a much smaller 1,250 to 339,250 and remained near a five-year low.
In other words, the labor market is not getting much better but it’s not getting any worse. Claims are viewed as a good barometer of how many layoffs are occurring in the economy. Yet the link between claims and new hiring is far less precise. Although companies are eliminating fewer jobs, they are not hiring as many people as they were at the start of the year.
In April, the cost of fuel fell 2.5%, led by a 6.0% drop in gasoline prices. Electricity and home-heating-fuel costs also eased, though natural-gas prices posted the biggest increase since mid-2008.
The price of food, meanwhile, fell 0.8% in April after jumping by the same amount in March. Vegetable prices plunged 10.6%, with the cost of squash, lettuce, celery and cucumbers all taking a dive. Meat prices also fell. MORE
If you had any doubts, it’s now official: When it comes to minorities, the GOP is not rocking the vote. That’s according to new data from the US Census Bureau, released Wednesday, that shows that record levels of black voters, as well rising numbers of minority voters, are turning out at the polls just as the white vote is declining. Unless Republicans can change their batting average with minorities, the data suggest they could strike out of office in future elections by dint of sheer demographics.
As speculation continues about the so-called terminal snooping saga, Bloomberg’s editor-in-chief Matthew Winkler weighed in on Monday with an editorial first apologizing, then explaining what reporters do and don’t have access to:
“First, they could see a user’s login history and when a login was created. Second, they could see high-level types of user functions on an aggregated basis, with no ability to look into specific security information. This is akin to being able to see how many times someone used Microsoft Word vs. Excel. And, finally, they could see information about help desk inquiries,” said Winkler.
Winkler says the practice is as old as the news and data provider itself, “as our reporters used to go in the early days of the company and ask them what topics they wanted to see covered … We still do that today, which is why we have feedback tabs on our news-related terminal functions.”
The saga began for Bloomberg after Goldman Sachs last month complained about journalist access to terminal subscribers, prompting the company to restrict that access. Its disclosure about the curb triggered an inquiry from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury, which both have Bloomberg terminals, The Wall Street Journal said. Chief Executive Daniel Doctoroff told The WSJ in an interview on Sunday said that the newsroom access to that information should have been “eliminated” earlier.
The New York Times on Monday cited more than half-a-dozen former employees who said they were trained to use a function on those terminals that let them monitor login activity in order to advance news coverage. But Winkler said Bloomberg has “never compromised the integrity” of its customer data in its reporting:
At no time did reporters have access to trading, portfolio, monitor, blotter or other related systems. Nor did they have access to clients’ messages to one another. They couldn’t see the stories that clients were reading or the securities clients might be looking at.
The topic certainly got lots of tongues wagging on Twitter Monday.
Christians and Muslims generally live side by side peacefully. But there has been a troubling rise in religious violence....
Coptic Easter has come and gone. For arcane reasons, Copts, the Christian sect indigenous to Egypt, celebrate the holiday on a different date than western Christians, and last Sunday they did so in the typical Egyptian fashion. Coptic youth set off fusillades of fireworks around churches and Coptic and Muslim families shopped and ate late into the night.
Despite the revelry, this is a particularly uncertain time for Copts and other religious minorities living in Egypt.
The country has recently seen numerous deadly sectarian clashes between Copts and Muslims, including a particularly galling incident in April in which police and Muslim youth attempted to storm the main Coptic Cathedral in Cairo with guns and tear gas, eventually killing at least two Copts.
Amidst this growing violence, the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, which unofficially controls the ruling Freedom and Justice Party, issued a religious edict banning Muslims from wishing their Egyptian neighbors a happy Easter. MORE
The road to recovery is in sight, and it has a bike lane.
The typical city street is a busy place. People riding bikes, walking, driving cars, and operating buses all have somewhere to to go and want to get there safely — and quickly.
But while we normally think of streets as pipelines for people and goods, public streets are about more than just moving from point A to point B. They're also corridors for public life. Streets are places where locals discover new hole-in-the-wall stores and restaurants, where window shoppers duck into shops to peruse, and where children convince their parents to stop — just for ONE second — to buy a cup of hot chocolate.
In other words, streets can also grow local economies.
A new study from the New York Department of Transportation shows that streets that safely accommodate bicycle and pedestrian travel are especially good at boosting small businesses, even in a recession.
NYC DOT found that protected bikeways had a significant positive impact on local business strength. After the construction of a protected bicycle lane on 9th Avenue, local businesses saw a 49% increase in retail sales. In comparison, local businesses throughout Manhattan only saw a 3% increase in retail sales.
Michael Charney's insight:
Interesting study from last November just crossed my desk... MC
The theme of presidential leadership is a venerated one in America, the subject of many biographies and an enduring mythology about great figures rising to the occasion. The term “mythology” doesn’t mean that the stories are inaccurate; Lincoln, the wonderful Steven Spielberg movie, conveyed a real sense of that president’s remarkable character and drive, as well as his ability to shape important events. Every president is compared to the Lincoln leadership standard and to those set by other presidents, and the first 100 days of every term becomes a measure of how a president is doing.
I have been struck by this phenomenon a lot recently, because at nearly every speech I give, someone asks about President Obama’s failure to lead. Of course, that question has been driven largely by the media, perhaps most by Bob Woodward. When Woodward speaks, Washington listens, and he has pushed the idea that Obama has failed in his fundamental leadership task—not building relationships with key congressional leaders the way Bill Clinton did, and not “working his will” the way LBJ or Ronald Reagan did. MORE
Everyone knows that Ronald Reagan famously said, "Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." But as Ramesh Ponnuru recently pointed out, there is a "less famous yet crucial beginning of that sentence": "In our present crisis."
Conservatives rightly hate nanny-state government and big-spending bureaucracy. But too often, the word "government" has become unfair shorthand for what is actually only bad or oppressive government.
Conservatives aren't anarchists, after all. We don't want Big Brother, but none of us should want to live in a Hobbesian state where every person is absolutely and entirely for himself, either. Instead, we believe in ordered liberty via limited government.
Certainly, the size and scope of government has increased over the years. But still, we shouldn't conflate all government with bad government. We need a functioning state, and yes, there is such a thing as a government that is too weak.
This morning's report was instructive and informative for me, both in terms of what's happening in Congress and in DC overall, as well as what seems to be going on at this very moment inside CP.
"Some political columnists say President Obama needs to exercise more "leadership" to bend a divided Congress to his will. But congressional Republicans have little incentive to cooperate with the president."
Monsanto’s latest brainstorm is still another genetically modified soybean, this one developed (with BASF) in response to “an explosion of crop-choking weeds around the U.S. that have become resistant” to the most recent round of Round-up, Monsanto’s best-selling herbicide. The weeds, it seems are smarter—and faster—than our best scientists....
You have your Jon Stewarts and Bill Mahers on the left, but what about the world of conservative comedy?
Eric Golub, 41, is on the road 300 days a year performing anyplace that will have him, whether tea party rallies or Republican women’s groups, and he boasts on his website that he is “the country’s preeminent politically conservative comedian.”
He says conservative comedians are “in the closet, so they’re starting to come out.” And he wants to reject the idea that conservatives aren’t funny.
“Conservatives are often seen as stuffed shirts, and that’s unfair,” Golub said. “I tell those people, go to a College Republicans Saturday night bash. You will not see stuffed shirts.”
But, even if liberal comedians occupy most of the air in the room, Golub is hardly bitter.
“To blame Hollywood liberalism — which does exist — is an excuse,” Golub told POLITICO. “Maybe some of the conservatives that are trying are just not that talented.” Golub also says he’s never been blacklisted for his views.
Yesterday, in response to recent IRS admissions, President Obama called the enhanced investigation of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status “intolerable and inexcusable.” And, Attorney General Eric Holder announced a criminal investigation into the allegations against the IRS. But both of them are missing the point.
The scandal here is not that political groups were targeted by the IRS, it's the fact that political groups are being subsidized by John Q. Taxpayer. Groups that are politically motivated, and not really “social welfare” organizations, shouldn't receive preferential tax treatment in the first place – regardless of their political affiliation. MORE
The Internal Revenue Service applied special scrutiny to applications for tax-exempt status from tea party and other conservative groups, according to a draft inspector general’s report obtained by the Associated Press.
IRS officials on Friday apologized for what they said was “inappropriate” targeting of such organizations in the 2012 election. They blamed low-level employees in the tax agency’s Cincinnati office, which handles most applications for tax-exempt 501(c)(4) status.
(Reuters) - Retail sales unexpectedly rose in April as households bought automobiles, building materials and a range of other goods, pointing to underlying strength in the economy.
The Commerce Department said on Monday retail sales edged up 0.1 percent after a revised 0.5 percent decline in March.
Economists polled by Reuters had expected retail sales, which account for about 30 percent of consumer spending, to drop 0.3 percent last month after a previously reported 0.4 percent decline in March.
So-called core sales, which strip out automobiles, gasoline and building materials and correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product, increased 0.5 percent after nudging up 0.1 percent in March.
The increase in core sales, coming on the heel of relatively strong job growth over the last three months, should help to ally fears of an abrupt slowdown in the economy early in the second quarter even as government austerity is starting to put a strain on manufacturing.
The tone of the retail sales report was mostly firm. Receipts at auto dealerships rose 1.0 percent after falling 0.6 percent in March. Excluding autos, sales dipped 0.1 percent after falling 0.4 percent in March.
Though falling gasoline prices pushed down receipts at gasoline stations, sales excluding gasoline recorded their largest increase since December.
Stripping out gasoline and autos, sales rose 0.6 percent.
Sales at building materials and garden equipment suppliers increased 1.5 percent, the largest gain since September. That reflects gains in homebuilding as the housing market recovery gains momentum.
Receipts at clothing stores rose 1.2 percent, the biggest increase since February last year.
Sales at sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores gained 0.5 percent. Receipts at electronics and appliances stores increased 0.8 percent, while sales at furniture stores were flat.
There are many ways corporations and financial interests can exercise influence in Washington. Some donate money to political campaigns while others hire lobbyists to be their megaphones to legislator ears. But information flows the other way, too. And since the financial crisis, details about the laws and regulations being hashed out behind closed doors is more valuable than ever.
A story from the Washington Post this week looks at the growing popularity of “political intelligence” firms that sell analysis of federal actions, and the likely policy ramifications of those actions, to interested parties. Oftentimes, the clients are investors in a company that will be affected by a policy decision or a proposed regulation. Some firms even coordinate meetings and conference calls with congressional staff members in which they share what they know about relevant legislation.
The Post illustrates this with an example: Capitol Street, a political intelligence firm specializing in health policy, recently set up a private conference call between a member of Sen. Orrin Hatch’s staff (R-Utah) and investors in Humana, a major healthcare company. The staffer told the investors that the odds were improving that Congress would make a decision related to Medicare that would help insurance companies. That same morning, the level of speculative trading on Humana’s stock was nearly 10 times more than it had been on any day in the previous two weeks. Lawmakers and federal regulators have noted that this sort of politically informed investing can look suspicious, and investigators recently issued subpoenas in connection with a different spike in trading after a D.C.-based investment-research firm correctly predicted a change in policy.
THE capital is in the throes of déjà vu and preview as it plunges back into Clinton Rules, defined by a presidential aide on the hit ABC show “Scandal” as damage control that goes like this: “It’s not true, it’s not true, it’s not true, it’s old news.”
The conservatives appearing on Benghazi-obsessed Fox News are a damage patrol with an approach that goes like this: “Lies, paranoia, subpoena, impeach, Watergate, Iran-contra.”
(Though now that the I.R.S. has confessed to targeting Tea Party groups, maybe some of the paranoia is justified.)
Welcome to a glorious spring weekend of accusation and obfuscation as Hillaryland goes up against Foxworld.
The toxic theatrics, including Karl Rove’s first attack ad against Hillary, cloud a simple truth: The administration’s behavior before and during the attack in Benghazi, in which four Americans died, was unworthy of the greatest power on earth.
Excerpt from column by Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post
...The Heritage Foundation is in a tailspin. To Politico and then to me, Heritage’s vice president of of communications, Mike Gonzales, denied that he or Heritage has hired acrisis management firm. If not, Heritage should. More details about the unsavory work of one of its anti-immigration report authors are coming to light. Chris Moody reports: “Heritage Foundation analyst Jason Richwine, the co-author of a study claiming the immigration reform bill pending in the Senate would cost taxpayers $6.3 trillion, wrote two articles in 2010 for a website founded by Richard Spencer, a self-described ‘nationalist’ who writes frequently about race and against “the abstract notion of human equality.”
Another report suggests that “Richwine is not the only scholar conservative immigration opponents in the current debate have relied on and who’ve published eyebrow-raising views in the past. The Heritage Richwine snafu will bring fresh scrutiny to other scholars, immigration advocates said.”
Former vice president of research Burton Pines is also denouncing Heritage’s work. He is quoted as saying; “It’s a new Heritage and it’s one that’s not standing by the principles of Ronald Reagan. I’m puzzled why they came out with this study and I’m more puzzled why they seem to be against immigration.”
In a word, it’s a mess. Only four months on the job, former senator Jim DeMint, who came to Heritage with no scholarly credentials, is caught in a firestorm of Heritage’s own making. A backlash that tarnishes the report and anti-immigrant forces more generally may undermine opponents of the Gang of Eight. But to the extent it raises questions about whether Heritage is still a respected think tank (and not a political oppo center), DeMint will find himself under the gun. A conservative scholar at another think tank emailed me, “I just don’t understand why [former president Ed] Feulner among others did not see this disaster coming.” More conservatives will be asking the same thing, I imagine. [Read full article]
(Reuters) - An investigation of the Internal Revenue Service was launched on Friday after a senior IRS official publicly apologized for subjecting conservative political groups to "inappropriate" scrutiny.
In a practice that drew complaints during the 2012 election campaign, groups with the words "Tea Party" or "patriots" in their names were flagged for closer IRS review when they applied to the agency for tax-exempt status.
"We would like to apologize for that," said Lois Lerner, director of the IRS tax-exempt office at an American Bar Association conference. She said the practice "was absolutely incorrect and it was inappropriate."
Lerner said screening of the conservative groups was "absolutely not" influenced by the Obama administration.
In what could be a major embarrassment for the IRS and a potential distraction for President Barack Obama, the matter is under investigation by the IRS inspector general.
"What we know of this is of concern and we certainly find the actions taken, as reported, to be inappropriate," White House spokesman Jay Carney said at a briefing.
Michael Charney's insight:
While I'm not a fan of Tea Party groups in general, if they were singled out for extra scrutiny, it's totally wrong, and should be investigated - MC